Mary Beth Writes

It was 1974 and I had just graduated from college. I did not have a CLUE what I wanted to do with my life. We could do that back then.  I did have a list of “Things I Want to Do and Adventures I Want to Have in the Next 10 Years”. It included things like hiking the Outback of Australia and teaching school in the Appalachians and Live in New York City. All this from the daughter of a not-rich Michigan widow. I also had $3000 in school loans (equiv to about $15,000 now, I just looked it up). Ah, youth.

My mother and brother were running the family printing business. (Dad had died 7 years earlier) After graduation I went home and worked in the print shop for the summer, living in my old bedroom while saving my paychecks. My mom should have charged me rent ... but then we never charged our kids rent either when they were between dreams and jobs.

It was the beginning of August. I drove the 1968 Pontiac Tempest (formerly known as Mom’s car, but she gave it to me when she bought a car that didn’t leak oil) to visit my BFF - who was visiting one of her friends at the University of Toledo. (There’s a song called, “I spent a week in Toledo one night.”) I liked Jeanie’s friend and I have good memories of that weekend, including watching a super macho bar owner shut down his bar at 1AM, haul out marijuana for the few people left, and then proceed to hit on my friend as if she was the last beautiful person on earth. She resisted. I was too scared to smoke the weed so I left with clear memories of the 60’s…

Weekend about over, I should have driven back home. But I figured since I was already that far, how hard could it be to just drive on to NYC? 

I am making myself sound more naïve than I was. I had a strong sense of self-preservation. I had lived through difficult times already. I didn’t regard myself as conventionally “pretty” so dating and men were seldom part of my on-going life.  I was willing to take risks to see something, anything, of the bigger world.

I got in my oil-leaking car and drove east. I had $200 in my purse and no more cash anywhere. Very few people had credit cards back then; we lived by cash or we stayed home.

One of my other friends from college was working in a refugee camp in the Sudan that first year out of school. I knew Christie was out of the country; I also knew her parents and sister lived across the Hudson River from NYC. I drove as far as Patterson, NJ (filling up with oil at every stop for gas). I looked up her parent’s phone number in a phone book and nervously called to ask if I could stay with them.

Yes, I did that.

They knew who I was and said yes. Without GPS I found their modest house in Cliffside Park, NJ.

Her parents were wonderful. I knew her mom was British; her dad had met and wooed her in one weekend during WWII. They were still together two lovely daughters and 30 years later. Her mom made me “a cuppa” and we sat at her kitchen table to chat.  Most romantic cup of tea in my life.

Christie’s sister was a secretary in Manhattan. The next two days I got up early and took the bus into the city with her.

I was worried about money (as well I needed to be) but I wanted to see a play on Broadway. So I spent something like $20 to buy a ticket to see “Raisin in the Sun” at the 46th Street Theater.  That was my only purchase in two days; that and a noontime hot dog each day from a hot dog cart. All the rest of the time I simply walked and walked and walked. I remember my red bell-bottom jeans and my buffalo sandals. I was shy, tired, weirded out – but I was absolutely in NYC.

It was August 9th. I was in sleazy Times Square gazing up at the iconic electronic news strip sign, “The Zipper”, which flashed news 24/7. Honest to God, while I was standing there the sign read, “Nixon Resigns”.  That’s how I learned.

I walked a few blocks to a courtyard type space; I don’t know where I was. There were a lot of benches and I was exhausted so I sat down next to a safe-looking older woman. She looked at me, smiled, and asked, “Did you hear the news?”

“Yes! Isn’t it stunning?”

We talked nearly two hours because – Oh New York, what a gift you gave me that strange afternoon! - that woman was a retired chorus line dancer.  She had so many stories of the work and fun of her life. She’d never married, the other dancers were her best friends, and they even had a kitten that they smuggled with them on trains in a hatbox!

It was getting late and she was going to go back to her room in the hotel where she lived. I ran to a flower cart and spent $5 for a little bunch of flowers and gave them to her. She kissed my cheek.

The play was wonderful. I took the bus back to Christie’s family’s home late that night.

The next day I hugged them all, got back in my car and drove back to the Midwest.

I called friends from college who were starting their final year at University of Illinois Nursing School in Chicago. Yeah, they had room for me to move in with them. I would live in Chicago 20 years. I've traveled through Appalachia. Have never been to Australia. 

But I did visited New York City  - on One Dollar a Day. More or less. 

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